Standard issues: new food and disability rules pose challenges for small business
HUNDREDS of thousands of independent food retailers, wholesalers, trucking companies and food distributors have a year and a half before they must comply with the new FDA rule on record keeping. Stemming from the 2002 Bioterrorism Act, the rule requires companies in the food distribution chain to obtain and record information on products received from suppliers and sold to customers.
Food retailers with 10 or more full-time employees must collect incoming data, which must be kept on the premises for six months to two years, depending on the perish-ability of the food. (Retailers with fewer than 10 employees are exempt.) Moreover--and this is the tricky part--food manufacturers must be able to link incoming ingredients with outgoing products. The FDA hasn't said how this should be done, but at a minimum, food manufacturers will probably have to print lot numbers or other identifying marks on outgoing products. The requirements go into effect on December 9, 2006.
While the FDA estimates compliance will cost companies only about $1,000 a year, another rule brewing at the Department of Justice could cost small businesses considerably more. The department's proposed revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act would force companies to carry out costly construction projects,
The act's design standards specify what areas of a building, for example, must have wheelchair access, and the technical requirements for that access. Potential changes to those standards adopted last July by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board include requiring companies to make employee-only areas wheelchair accessible even if there are no employees in wheelchairs, and upping the number of public entrances which must be wheelchair accessible from the current requirement of 50 percent to 60 percent. The DOJ is at the start of encoding these guidelines into a final rule.
STEPHEN BARLAS is a freelance business reporter who covers the Washington beat for 10 magazines.